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Seasoning Cast Iron in May 2011

I usually look for previous posts on a topic and then only make a new thread if there aren't any answering my question. But in this case, i have the opposite problem - there are too many posts on this topic, and it's impossible to sort them out. Here goes:

Basically, I finally caved and bought a lodge cast iron skillet - my much loved and unlikely-to-be-poisonous nonstick pans are starting to get a few scratches, and I'd like to save them for truly delicate foods. I have some other CI cookware, but nothing I've been too concerned with seasoning before.

At this point, I've smeared some bacon grease in it and gave it a little while in a 450 deg oven (not long - maybe 30 minutes). I've cooked bacon and steaks in it. I did not remove the crappy initial 'seasoning.'

My default 'guide' for seasoning CI is this post by Threegigs.
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4768...

So, my questions:
1) Does that post represent the most recent and effective advice in terms of CI seasoning? Have there been any wildly successful alternative methods discussed recently that I've missed? (see question 3

)

2) Should I remove the tiny amount of seasoning I already have before going all out?

----2a) What's the best method for doing so? My oven has no self-clean cycle. Max temp 500. So do I put it under the broiler (mine is fairly strong)? To sand or not to sand? Is a brillo pad useful? Might a smoother surface help?

3) Did anyone have any success with the Cooks Illustrated flaxseed oil method? I heard about the seasoning flaking off, but wasn't sure if anyone had luck at lower temperatures or different pretreatments.

4) Are there any problems with bacon grease? Is salt an issue? Or the fact that I just have a bowl of it slowly turning browning at room temperature on top of the microwave? Should I use lard instead?

Thanks, and sorry for adding yet another CI thread.

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  1. The method in the linked post seems fine to me. There's more than one way to season a skillet and none of the methods are sacred. I've had good results thoroughly cleaning my pan of all previous seasoning (I only buy vintage) by scouring with steel wool and dish washing liquid, using whatever oil I happen to have handy (usually some form of vegetable oil) and wiping a very thin coat all over the pan, making sure to remove any excess, putting the pan into a cold oven (right side up or upside down, I haven't noticed a difference) and heating it to 500* for a few hours after it gets up to temp, then letting it cool completely in the oven. Not necessarily the "right" way and certainly not the only way, but it's worked for me and I've never had seasoning flake off regardless of how much wine I use to deglaze it. To me, the whole point of cast iron is to have decent cookware that is cheap and relatively maintenance free. There's no point in creating some aura of mystique around the seasoning process or turning it into a ritual anointing of oil that can only be done just so.

    5 Replies
    1. re: hardline_42

      I don't care a bit about its mystique - hence my holding out on buying a CI skillet for years. I just want to know from anyone who has tried multiple methods of seasoning (or at least who has kept up with the dozens of threads on the matter) if one method is superior to the others. I have read enough to see plenty of reports of problems and difficulties getting that initial seasoning right and making it last, and I'd rather avoid that.

      Using vegetable oil, how many coats do you apply, how slick is the resulting seasoning, and have you ever had it flake off?

      thanks

      1. re: cowboyardee

        I usually apply 3 or 4 coats. In most cases, I think I've used soybean oil.

        The result should not be sticky, but its slickness will depend on the base material. I don't think a Lodge will ever be as slick as a vintage Griswold no matter what the seasoning method.

        Also, the initial seasoning is not the deep black that is normally associated with a cast iron pan. It has some hints of amber and brown that have gotten darker and blacker with use.

        I've never had seasoning flake off of my pans, and I'm not careful about it. As I said, I often deglaze with wine, I heat tomato sauce in them etc. and I've never had any problems. I also routinely clean with the green side of the sponge and some dish washing liquid and the seasoning doesn't come off. Granted, I don't cook acidic foods every day and I use plenty of oil in between.

        The non-stick properties using this method have been great. I test each pan by cooking an egg in it after seasoning and they've all slid out easily.

        1. re: hardline_42

          2 last questions -

          Do you ever use very high heat (like for searing steaks and such) with your CI pan now that it has a nice seasoning?

          And was the interior of your griswold pan smooth or rough when you got it/underneath the seasoning?

          Thanks again.

          1. re: cowboyardee

            I use very high heat all the time. In fact, I made turkey tenderloins the other day. I preheated the oven to 450* and threw my #6 pan in to preheat along with the oven. When it was up to temp, I put it on the burner on med/hi heat. Once it was hot enough, I seared all sides of the seasoned tenderloins and then put the pan and meat into the oven at *450 for ten minutes. That's how I make most cuts of meat and even burgers. I just vary the cooking time accordingly.

            The pan does get some stuck on goodness right where the meat sears, and if I don't deglaze it, I just run it under hot water and scrub it off with a sponge and some soap. The base seasoning doesn't get disturbed at all.

            I've gotten Griswolds in different conditions. All of them are Erie PA, small logo pans and they've all been very smooth. The best comparison I can make is the surface of an evenly worn brake rotor from a car. I've handled Lodge pans and they're not nearly as smooth.

        2. re: cowboyardee

          I have never had any luck with vegetable oil. Always just gets gunky and sticky. I have had ok luck with crisco shortening though. My first pre-seasoned pan I baught, I just washed up and started seasoning over the top. It all flaked off. So I heated the pan on high heat in the oven and finished baking off the coatings, scrubbed and started again.

          I have had the best luck using lard or bacon grease for seasoning. I once fried something in peanut oil and was pleasantly suprised and the smoothness from that. So I experimented with coating with peanut oil. Worked great, but you do have to use a higher heat to use it. Seems peanut oil has a high smoke point.

          I don't use peanut oil anymore due to my grandbaby being highly allergic to peanuts.

          So I just use lard. I smear it on very thin and bake in the oven at about 400 for about 45 minutes then turn the oven off and leave it in until it cools. Usually this is ok, but if the pan still feels slightly tacky, I just reheat again.

          I don't like to leave in a hot oven to long for risk of baking off my coating. 400 seems pretty safe for me.

          If I am in a hurry, I have heated the oven hotter than the 400, get the pan to smoking good then turn the oven off and leave it while I go on to work or bed. :o)
          My CI seasoning methods is kind of like my cooking. Recipie ingredients and time to cook sometimes varies a little.

      2. With my most recent CI skillet, I tried the CI flaxseed oil method. I did it every night for a week. It was kind of a pain, but having used it now for several months for everything from Cornbread to eggs to veggies, I think it is far superior to any method I've used in the past.

        I have had no issues with flaking at all. But like how to roast a chicken or how to season a carbon steel wok there are probably several ways that will work. YMMV.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Klunco

          Thanks. What temp did use use, and how long per coat?

          1. re: cowboyardee

            I followed this method:

            http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/201...

            Heat the pan in a 200 degree oven. Smear oil on and then wipe it all off. Then put it in the oven at 500 degrees for an hour and a half (the half hour is how long I let my oven preheat). Turn off the oven and let the pan cool inside. I did this every night for a week.

            Good luck!

        2. You have received many great advices already. I have, as other suggested, removed the original preseasoning surface and started from bare. I think that really depends on the condition of the original preseasoned surface. Sometime they are good, but sometime they are not. If the preseasoning surface is poor and everything building on top of it will be unstable -- much like if the importance of a primer paint. I removed mine using the self cleaning cycle. If you don't have one, then you can just try the highest temperature you can.

          As for seasoning process, I prefer the higher temperature method, so mine is between 400-450 oC for 1-2 hours. The key to make sure you don't apply too much oil. Once I got a layer of seasoning on the cookware, I often do another stovetop seasoning. Stovetop seasoning will not able to reach the side of the cookware, but it will concentrate the bottom of the cookware which will be the most abused area. Stovetop seasoning is very fast because you can heat up the cookware much faster to a higher temperature. You can see exactly what is going on. The drawback is that you will see a lot more smoke and you will have to stand right there. Usually shouldn't take more than 10-15 minutes.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            "As for seasoning process, I prefer the higher temperature method, so mine is between
            400-450 oC for 1-2 hours."
            ___
            Do you actually mean degrees celcius there? Cuz that's pretty damn hot.

            1. re: cowboyardee

              For me it is degrees. And I forgot to say in my previous post, that I bake on probably 4 layers before I even try to cook in it. Then the first thing I do is bake cornbread greasing up my pre heated skillet with bacon grease. Something about baking southern style cornbread in a cast iron skillet, just tops it off. (for both the skillet and the cornbread)
              Sometimes the first cornbread baked will stick a little. I just weight for the skillet to cool, scrub it out with hot water and a SS scrub pad, dry and bake on another coat of seasoning.

              Then bake some more cornbread. We don't eat that much cornbread, but the birds, squirrels and the occasional wondering dog, love it!

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Cowboy,

                Thanks for the correction. Yes, they should be in oF, not oC.

            2. I agree with Hardline, Lodge is never going to be like Griswold. Having said that, since you already own the pan ( and I do own some lodge along with my favorite Griswolds) I've found seasoning cast iron on a charcoal grill to work the best. Just get the charcoal going as if you were cooking, or wait until you are done grilling dinner and put your pan on and close the lid. I prefer to use lard to season my pans. Just leave the pan on until everything is cooled off. I generally just get it out the next day.

              7 Replies
              1. re: rasputina

                Lodge may never be exactly like Griswold, but it is still great. With use, they just get better.
                I have a Lodge skillet and a dutch oven that I got new when I was first married 31 years ago. They are both worn slick as a button on the inside. I don't know exactly when they became so smooth, but has been that way a long time.(and I have not used the DO nearly as much as the skillet, but it is still nice and smooth.) Of course I have always used metal utensils and scrubbed with metal scouring pads. Gets my pans clean and helps to season and smooth out my pans. (also seems to help with the build up that can occur on the pan) Every time I scour and recoat my CI, I think of sanding and polishing wood.
                I agree, there is something to be said for vintage CI. But I feel that way about a lot of old things.

                So for those that don't have the time, money or desire to hunt for vintage, just grab one of the new ones at your local store and start cooking. Like me, you won't turn around twice and you and your new CI skillet will be considered "vintage".;o)

                1. re: dixiegal

                  I own some Lodge CI that I use every now and then, but when I need non-stick performance I go with my vintage. I don't have the "time" to scour, scrape, grind and polish my CI for three decades to get decent performance, nor do I have the "money" to spend on something that is not functional for my needs. Especially when good, usable vintage CI is available at similar or lower prices than new. As far as "hunting" for vintage CI, thankfully nowadays it's as easy as going on eBay and buying one you like.

                  There's nothing wrong with Lodge CI for certain uses. Deep frying and baking no-knead bread comes to mind. But, the bottom line is that for all-around non-stick(ish) type cooking, the smoother surface of vintage CI takes seasoning better and provides a better cooking surface right off the bat than Lodge.

                  1. re: hardline_42

                    Oh it doesn't take 3 decades to make them non stick or even smooth. That is just how long I have had them. They have been smooth for a long time.
                    I have two lodge skillets that are less than 2 months old and they are totaly non stick. I scramble eggs in them nearly every day and they slide out onto my plate just like my old non-stick teflon.
                    I have been cooking eggs in them for weeks now.

                    I have some vintage CI iron too. My two newest skillets are just as non stick as my really old ones. Not as smooth, but just as non stick.

                    I just want to encourage those that don't have vintage, that the new CI cook and clean just as well.
                    I do it all the time. I am the one in the family that 'breaks' in the new CI for everyone else. They bring me the new, and I loan them my used ones until I get theirs just right. Then we swap back. Doesn't take long at all.
                    And sometimes I just let them keep my old ones.( That is if they are not the ones of sentimental value.) And then I just keep using the new ones.
                    That is how little of a difference I find them. (and I do fry everything in them and I never deep fry anything.)
                    But maybe that is just me.

                    Not sure what you mean by vintage CI taking seasoning better than the new lodge.
                    Do you mean the seasoning won't stay on the lodge pans?
                    I find all my CI takes seasoning the exact same way. Old pans, new pans, lodge, or some other brand. They are all CI and season just the same for me.

                    The only glitch I ever had was when I tried to season over the seasoning that came on a new pan. Didn't stay on. I baked it off and scrubbed down to the bare metal and began again. No problems from then on. Now whenever I get a pan, old or new, I scrub it down to the bare metal and start seasoning a new.

                    Again, that is just my experiance.

                    As for hunting vintage CI. I do it because it is fun and takes me down memory lane. Not because I think they are any better. I just like the history behind them.
                    I to this day, regret rescuing out of the trash the skillet that my grandmother in-law wore a hole in. I was watching her fry chicken when a hole come in the bottom of that cast iron skillet and grease ran out all over her old stove. She took the chicken out and threw the skillet with the hole away and grabbed another and just kept cooking.
                    I would love to have that skillet hanging on my wall right now.

                    1. re: dixiegal

                      I totally agree with you on Lodge cast iron, dixiegal. I have a 3-month-old Lodge skillet that, after cooking steak / fatty fish in it maybe 10 times, reached a beautifully non-stick state within 2 weeks. I've made scrambled eggs, fried rice, and other sticky foods in it with only about 1/2 teaspoon of oil. The only clean-up needed after cooking these foods is wipe with paper towel.

                      I also own a Griswold cast iron skillet that has come to my possession for about 2 months. Honestly, I think Lodge's performance is on par if not just a bit superior. I found that Lodge's pre-seasoned pebbly surface allows seasoning to build up faster. And because Lodge skillet is thicker, it actually retains more heat than Griswold and is a better choice for searing steak, etc.

                      Yes, Lodge isn't as pretty as Griswold because it's not smooth. But functionally speaking, it is fantastic for giving nonstick performance. And Lodge skillets will look better with usage. Even though my Lodge is only 3 months old, I'm already seeing the cooking surface beginning to smooth out in the center.

                      1. re: Cheeryvisage

                        This hasn't been my experience with the few Lodge pieces that I own, but maybe I gave up on them too soon. Even though the pre-war Griswold cast iron is higher quality than much of what is produced today, there is definitely something to be said about a thicker pan, as evidenced by the condition of my latest eBay'd Griswold (#9 for $20):

                         
                          1. re: Cheeryvisage

                            It was very poorly packaged and arrived this way. I'm in the process of getting the situation rectified but I don't have very high hopes of getting all of my money back or a serviceable pan. I guess there's something to be said for buying new as well!

              2. Thanks everyone. I'm leaning towards trying the flaxseed/CI method. I'll let you know how it goes.

                For all the griswold fans - what makes it so much better than a lodge pan? Is the steel just smoother-surfaced? Cause I might be able to do something about that before seasoning my lodge.

                1 Reply
                1. re: cowboyardee

                  The pan surface is machined smooth instead of blasted. Besides providing a smoother surface to start from, it also exposes many more pores in the cast iron, allowing the seasoning to adhere much better. Griswold pans are also much lighter and easier to handle than Lodge pans.